Citizens were robbed in city settlement of lawsuit

Citizens were robbed in lawsuit settlement

October 20, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

THEY SOUND good at first, these explanations you hear from city officials about the settlement reached this month in the lawsuit filed by family members of career criminal Larry Hubbard.

First, let's recap the sorry life and predictable end of Hubbard, a guy who described himself as a thug. Three years ago this month, Officers Barry Hamilton and Robert Quick were on Baltimore's streets doing exactly what its citizens asked them to do: track down assorted miscreants, 'hood rats and criminals. They spotted a car reported as stolen and chased it down. Hubbard, who was in the car, bolted and fled on foot.

Hamilton and Quick caught up to Hubbard on an East Baltimore street. A struggle ensued. Hamilton and Quick said Hubbard resisted arrest and had a hand on Quick's gun when Hamilton did the only thing he could do: fatally shoot Hubbard.

What followed was predictable. Hamilton and Quick, both white, became brutal racist cops who deliberately murdered Hubbard, the reprobate who suddenly became a martyred victim by virtue of being black. Witnesses claimed Hubbard wasn't resisting arrest and was shot while pleading for his life. Lawyers got involved. The inevitable lawsuit, filed by Hubbard's survivors, ensued.

The case was scheduled to go to trial this month, but Baltimore officials wimped out on Hamilton and Quick and settled. The amount Hubbard's family got - which comes out of our tax dollars - is a secret and will remain undisclosed.

Now let's hear those explanations that, at first, sound good. Thurman Zollicoffer, Baltimore's city solicitor, said it is policy for officials to give a dollar amount for all settlements made, but not for individual lawsuits.

"It's not the dollar amount" the city tries to hide, Zollicoffer insisted. "It's a matter of not wanting to encourage suits against the city." Zollicoffer also answered the question bugging those who regard Hubbard's shooting as justified: Doesn't the settlement imply Hamilton and Quick were guilty of something?

"Absolutely not," Zollicoffer insisted. "A settlement means what it says - a settlement. It's not an indictment. It doesn't put an onus on either actor."

You have to wonder if Hamilton and Quick feel that way. But as for indictments, it's interesting to note that a grand jury failed to indict either officer in Hubbard's death. Both testified at the grand jury hearing, something Fraternal Order of Police President Gary McLhinney said was "unprecedented."

Speaking of that grand jury decision in June 2000, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said prosecutors brought in as many witnesses as were available. Some contradicted the witnesses who said Hubbard was shot "pleading for his life" and supported the accounts given by Quick and Hamilton.

Jessamy said that once the witnesses were sworn in (and perjury charges became possible) the accounts of the witnesses and officers didn't vary too much. A civil trial would have allowed Quick and Hamilton to publicly give their account of what happened that day and to answer charges that they are racists and murderers. In spite of Zollicoffer's words, there will be those who insist the city settled to cover something up. Hamilton and Quick deserve better.

"I just think it's unbelievable the city is using tax money to pay [Hubbard's] family a nickel," McLhinney said. He contended that Zollicoffer pushed for a settlement from the beginning of the lawsuit. "Clearly, [Zollicoffer] doesn't like us and doesn't do what's in our best interests," he said.

Zollicoffer said he would not respond to any comments made about him.

But maybe Baltimoreans should respond to tax dollars being paid in a settlement that might not have been necessary had the case gone to trial. Odd, isn't it, that when Commissioner Ed Norris spent money from a discretionary fund not supplied by tax dollars, the perceived offense inspired several news stories and comments of outrage?

Now tax money is involved in a settlement that shouldn't have been made, and there's nary a whimper of protest. What's more, city officials refuse to tell us how much Hubbard's family took us for. It's to protect us, you see, so folks won't be inclined to file lawsuits.

But if they know they can file and get a settlement without even going to court, just how is not revealing the amount of the settlement a deterrent? It sounds like an incentive to me.

"Where is there an economic loss for [Hubbard's] family?" McLhinney asked. "He was a thief and a drug dealer. This guy preyed on East Baltimore's citizens."

And it looks like, from the grave, Larry Hubbard has mugged Baltimore's citizens one last time.

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